Joshua-Wayne Barber/Part 6
By: Dr. Wayne Barber
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2004|
|When we receive Jesus into our hearts, and when we begin to turn to walk with Him, we’re entering the unknown. And we walk by faith and not by sight. We don’t have to see the boats, we just trust the One that’s in charge. Anything over our head is under His feet. We are never alone; we are never alone. He’s within us and He wants us to step into the water of His will. We must be willing.|
Step into the water (Joshua 3b)
Turn if you will to Joshua 3. How exciting can it get? Joshua 3. We’re going to go over today. They’re going into the water. As a matter of fact I’m entitling this “Step into the Water.”
In chapter 3 of Joshua we saw the last time that the wordark is used at least ten different times in that chapter. Now the word ark to the Israelite had to do with the presence of God. They knew when they saw that ark; they understood that God was with them. However the ark to you and I, they didn’t understand this, we do, is the Lord Jesus Christ, who is always with us. Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He’s always with us. He’s always with us. The ark was a chest made of acacia wood. Matter of fact, that was the hardest wood known at that time. It was called petrified wood in some translations it was so hard. And it was inlayed with gold, within and without, completely covered with pure gold. Of course this points to the God-man, the word Jesus Christ being man and His being God.
Within that chest were several things. First of all there was the golden pot of manna. Now that golden pot of manna was a picture of Jesus being the bread of life. He sustains us, He satisfies us, and He is our every sufficiency no matter what need we have in life. Inside the Ark was also Aaron’s rod which budded, bloomed, and bore fruit—a picture of His resurrection, a picture of His ascension, and a picture of His power to reproduce Himself in the lives of those who trust Him by faith. Many of you have seen The Passion. I hope all of you will see it before it goes away. It is an awesome, awesome movie. But I tell you what, this is the next piece. People need to understand that, yes, He came and died; yes, He resurrected; yes, He ascended. But now He lives in heaven and wants to send His Spirit to come and live in us. He reproduces His life in the hearts of people who trust Him by faith.
Inside the Ark were also the Tablets of Law, the Ten Commandments that were given to Moses there on the Mount. Those Tablets of Law condemn every man born of Adam. And some people say, “Wayne, if this is a picture of Christ, why would those Tablets of Law be inside of that chest?” Well, the part of the picture that you don’t understand perhaps is that the Tablets of Law were within the Ark, but covering those Tablets of Law and the pot of manna and the other things that were there, was the chest top, which was called the Mercy Seat. The Mercy Seat. Again, pure gold; it was covered with pure gold, and at each end of the Mercy Seat was an enormous, beautiful angel. That angel was a cherubim as we see many times in Scripture. The wings were held up and out and the faces of the angels were looking down intently at the top of that Mercy Seat which covered the Tablets of Law within the Ark. It was the Mercy Seat every year that bore special significance to Israel.
The High Priest would go in behind the veil into the Holy of Holies and he would take the blood and he would sprinkle the blood on the Mercy Seat which would cover the people condemned by the law underneath it. It covered them for one year. It was the blood of bulls and goats. But, you see, that could only cover them for one year. The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ does not just cover us for one year. It remits our sin as Hebrews 9:22 says: “Without the shedding of blood there would be no remission of sins.” He washes them away. And so when we see the Ark, we see the law is very important to the heart of God. But we also see that the law was fulfilled by the Mercy Seat. He was our propitiation and that was translated many times in Scripture as our Mercy Seat. And the blood that He shed for us covers us and there is no condemnation therefore if we are in Christ Jesus.
What a beautiful picture the ark was and is to us of the Lord Jesus being in us and with us at all times, no matter what we face, no matter what trial we’re up against. He is our sufficiency and our enablement. But not only that, any time we sin in the Christian life we run to Him and His blood that gave us the bath and salvation continues to cleanse of our sins daily and effect a fellowship with Him.
Well, in Joshua 3:1 it says, “Then Joshua rose early in the morning and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed.” Now I want to keep reminding you of something, and that is that Joshua didn’t have a clue how they were going to cross the water. Nowhere in Scripture does it say, “Lord, do we build a boat? Exactly how do we do this?” Because the river is at flood stage, he doesn’t know. He’s just acting by faith, taking a step at a time, trusting God.
Remember I said the river was at flood stage? God had created a crisis in their lives. I wonder, what crisis God has put in your life today? What flooded river faces you and everything God says is yours in Him? What is it that we’re standing up against and God says “I want you to step into the water.” And so by faith he moved all two and a half million Israelites. Can you imagine? Seven miles from Shittim to the banks of the Jordan River and they’re ready now to step into the water—unless God has another plan, that’s all they know. If we’re going to cross it and He’s not given us a boat, then we’re going to have to step into the water.
Joshua was all the time simply trusting God to do what he knew that God has done before and could do again. He just knew it; he trusted the character of God. In verse 2: “At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp.” It took three days to prepare everybody to go across. They were to walk by tribe, there was a special alignment and evidently it took three days. Now, camped beside that river swollen at flood time for three days gave everybody in Israel a chance to understand what was ahead of them. Now you can just imagine, I’m reading between the lines, I don’t know, but the high anxiety that had to cause in the people’s minds. I can just hear them sitting around the camp fire as they were eating at night. “Oh my, the river is at flood stage. How in the world are we ever, oh I wish we could go back to Egypt and as they said over in the wilderness and eat the leeks and onions again. What in the world is he doing leading us to this place?”
And God had a plan. People were facing the unknown. Listen, folks, in the flooded rivers of your life, that’s the unknown. When we receive Jesus into our hearts, and when we begin to turn to walk with Him, we’re entering the unknown. And we walk by faith and not by sight. We don’t have to see the boats, we just trust the One that’s in charge. Anything over our head is under His feet. We are never alone; we are never alone. He’s within us and He wants us to step into the water of His will. We must be willing. But to do that there are three things that will help us to understand and it’s right here in chapter 3. That’s what I want us to look at today.
- The unchangeable will of God
First of all, the unchangeable will of God. I hope that you’re seeing, that I’m seeing, that God has never changed. He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And what He requires if we’re going to walk with Him is the same, whether in the Old Testament or whether in the New Testament. But first, the unchangeable will of God.
If we are ever going to possess—and I mean that in light of experience, we already possess it positionally—but if we’re ever going to experience what God says is already ours in Christ, then we’re going to have to learn to walk by faith, trusting Him and trusting His Word. And that has never changed. That’s the way it is, I don’t care which covenant you’re in, that’s exactly what God requires. The difference is He lives in us now, to enable us, and even create the desire, but it’s the same.
In verse 3: “And they commanded the people saying, ‘When you see the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However [he says], there shall be between you and it a distance of about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.’” I love that about God. The new things of God; “Behold I will do a new thing,” He says in Isaiah 43.
When you begin to walk with Him, we begin to experience life in ways that we’ve never experienced before. There were no scouts to go over first. Two others had gone over, but there were none to lead the way, only the priests carrying the ark were to put their feet into the water. God was going to lead them and His people over into that which He says is theirs. But to do that through the crisis, through the flooded river, He was going to teach them to walk by faith. In the midst of any crisis we have in life—and they can be this big and they can be huge—in any crisis in life we need to simply learn to just trust Him and only Him and He will take us where we have never been before.
Now everybody was supposed to be able to see the Ark. He said, “There shall be between you and it a distance of about two thousand cubits by measure.” The ark was to be that far out in front of them so that everybody could see it. Now, 2,000 cubits is approximately 3,000 feet. It says “about” 2,000 cubits, so somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 feet. Three thousand feet out in front of them were the priests carrying that ark. Now why would that be? So that everybody could see it. The further back you were, the better you could see it.
He said don’t get too close to it; if you get too close to it you’ll not be able to see it. You know, that’s exactly the way it is in our Christian walk. I thank the Lord for the man who wrote the song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth shall grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.” No matter what crisis you’re walking through, it’s your focus that is key. Are you looking at the lions of your circumstance, or are you looking at the Lord of your circumstance? It’s got to be your focus, that’s got to start. You’ve got to get in His presence. When you’re facing the swollen rivers of the circumstances of your life, you’ve got to get into His presence and be able to focus upon Him and see Him.
As I said, they were not to get too close, because the closer you got, the less others could see it. You had to stay back. And then in verse 5: “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’” Consecrate yourselves. Once we’re in the presence of God, once we get our focus on Him—maybe it’s the death of a loved one, maybe it’s a trauma at work, maybe it’s a health problem—but you come in the midst of the crisis that’s staring at you and what you want to do is get into His presence. And when you get into His presence, you consecrate yourself unto Him; you yield unto Him. You make sure you set yourself apart unto Him. Before they could cross the swollen river of their circumstance and enter that which God said was already theirs, they had to first of all focus on Him and consecrate themselves to Him.
The word “consecrate” means to set yourself apart unto God. It’s translated “holy” seven different times in the Old Testament, it’s translated “sanctify” 108 times in the Old Testament, but it means the same thing. It’s the word used in chapter 7, and we’re going to preempt a little bit when I tell you this, but they come in, they go to Jericho—and we’ll look at that later on—but then they come to a little pipsqueak military outpost called Ai. And they’re miserably defeated. Miserably defeated! “Now, God, I thought you were going to be with us?” And the reason that they were defeated is because of sin in the camp. And you see, sin is when we’re not consecrated. And so God had to tell Joshua in the midst of that chapter, and you’ll see it when we get there, He said, “Tell them to consecrate themselves.” And consecrating themselves had to do with dealing with the sin that was in their lives. Deal with that which has caused them not to focus. Deal with that which has caused them not to be totally surrendered to Him. They had to deal with it, or they’re not going to walk in the victory God said was theirs.
It’s a picture of a conduit; you know what a conduit is—a pipe. If you want water to flow through the pipe then you definitely don’t want anything in it that would obstruct it. My little grandchildren have discovered the art of flushing toys down the toilet. It’s a strange thing that does to the flow of the water and you want to make sure that the conduit is clear. We’re a vessel, that’s all we are. We’re just conduits. For those who think more highly of yourselves, you ought to think as Paul said in Romans: just relax, back off, you’re just a conduit. That’s all. And it’s all about God, it’s not about us. And if Wayne wants to experience all that God has for him, it’s already there, it’s in Christ, then Wayne has to learn to get rid of anything in his life that is causing an obstruction in the flow. He needs to consecrate himself. But he won’t do that until he gets in the presence of God, until he’s looking at Christ, in His presence, will we consecrate anything.
Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” You see, hinging on the unreasonable in our minds lies the unexplainable wonders of God that we’ll look at in just a moment. Miss Bertha Smith was a part of the Shantung Revival in China. One of the greatest missionaries we’ve ever had. And on the field she tells the story of how they had a man with them on the team that began to lose his eyesight. Well, back in the day that she was a missionary in China, they didn’t have many men that would go. The women, thank God for the women, carried the load for so many years when the men wouldn’t. They had a man with them, but here he was losing his eyesight. They got together and said, “We can’t let him go home. If he goes home, they’ll not send us another one, and we don’t have anyone that can do what he does here.” It was in the medical field I think. And so they got together and said, “We’re going to pray for him.” And they all got around him and they began to lay their hands on him, and just call out to God, to pray that He would heal the man.
But you know what God did? God said, “Now that you’re in My presence, let’s put the man aside here. You need to consecrate yourself here. There’s sin in your life that is somehow obstructing the flow.” And Miss Bertha Smith said that she couldn’t believe what God put on her heart. She got alone and she said, “God, show me what it is in my life that is hindering what you want to do in our work here.” God began to put on her heart promises she’d made and never fulfilled, He began to put on her heart books that she had borrowed and never returned, money that she’d borrowed and never repaid, promises she’d made and never kept, and it just went on and on and on. She said it was three weeks and brokenness that led her to consecrate herself; to get those things out of her life that were keeping the flow of God from working within her.
They said they finally came together several weeks later. When they came together, they didn’t know if God would heal the man or not. It doesn’t mean that God is any less of God if He didn’t. But that was the need and the desire of their heart. And they cried out to God to heal this man, and they said when she started to pray with her life now cleaned up, with all the garbage out of the way, she said the power of God’s Spirit was so in that place and the man’s eyes were healed and he served out his whole term with them in China. But more than that, that healing of that man became the beginning of the Shantung Revival, and they didn’t even have revival on their mind. They were the crisis of a flooded river; they didn’t know what to do. They had to get in God’s presence and they had to consecrate themselves. And God did such a work in that man’s life that it started the Shangtung Revival which historically goes down as one of the greatest revivals we’ve ever seen.
That’s what God says: What is it in our life that is holding back the flow, the flow? He lives in us, we don’t have a land, we have a life. And so He says to us: “It’s never going to change, it’s never going to change.” It’s going to be get into His presence and consecrate yourselves, and become a conduit so that God can do those works through you.
- The unexplainable wonders of God
Well, the unchangeable will of God, and once we get hold of that and focus on Him and consecrate ourselves to Him, the next thing we see is the unexplainable wonders of God. How do you explain when God does what He does, when we’re standing there and facing the river and we put our foot into the water, how do we explain what happens next?
“Then Joshua said to the people,” verse 5, “consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Oh, the wonders of God. I can’t help but think about this when I talk about it. What does God have for us? Why did God put us all together for such a time as this? What is it on the other side of that Jordan, the crisis that we face every day? What is it that God wants to do to touch this world for Jesus Christ? I’m telling you, if it doesn’t excite you, it’d be a great morning to get saved. God’s got some wonderful things in store for us, but we have got to get with the program. Unless we’re going to focus and unless we’re going to consecrate ourselves, then we can forget the wonders and experiencing what He wants to do in our midst. Every crisis is designed to cause us to drive us to His presence. And in His presence we’ve already been told there’s where we consecrate ourselves, and that’s when God then shows Himself strong in our lives. When one is consecrated to God, his eyes are only on Him; this is when God does wonders in his midst. And nobody can explain it. You can’t take any credit for it. It’s God!
Verse 6: “And Joshua spoke to the priests saying, ‘Take up the Ark of the Covenant and cross over ahead of the people.’ So they took up the Ark of the Covenant and went ahead of the people.” Now the priests were to take the Ark and they were the first ones to get their feet wet. They were to take it into the swollen river. Now, so far I’ve been telling you that the river is swollen. I haven’t given you any more information. Let me just tell you that information now that they’re ready to cross. Let me just share that with you.
First of all, what I’ve discovered in my study is that the river is normally about 100 feet wide on a good day when there was no flooding. But when the flooding would come, it could be up to as much as a mile wide. Now, think about that real carefully because you’ve got two and a half million people about to cross over a river that’s up to a mile wide. The river takes its name, “The Descender,” from the force of the current. That’s explained after it passes through the Sea of Galilee it becomes greatly increased and it drops 1,000 feet and plunges through 27 horrible rapids and cascades, and in the swollen time of the harvest, the speed of that river is greatly increased. If you’ve ever white water canoed as I have or anything like that, and you’ve been on a river in a flood stage, you understand how dangerous that can be, because it’s so increased in the way that current of that river flows. Most of the time they say it’s about four to six miles per hour that it flows, which is a still good, stiff current. But, boy, when it’s swollen, look out! That’s when that current rises.
No one at this point in Israel, Joshua included, knew how God was going to get them across that river. But the priests were to take the lead. They were to take the Ark and they had to get their feet wet first. They were the first to step into the water. God was about to strengthen the people’s faith like never before. I’ll tell you, most of you have read this story and you know what happens. And if what we’re going to study does not encourage your faith, then, like I said, it’d be a good morning to get saved! I mean, what are you going to do?
This is what brings you to the next task. Well, if God can part that river, if He can part the water, then what can He do in this particular situation? The swollen river can take many shapes and forms in our lives. If you jump down to verses 9-11 you’ll see how this is meant to strengthen their faith. Why did God put the flooded river there to begin with? It tells you right here. “Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, ‘Come here and hear the words of the Lord your God,’ and Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that the living God is among you.’” By what? By what God is about to do. “And that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites the Perrizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan.’”
When they cross this swollen river, everybody sitting there in camp for three days understood the task ahead of them, and when they were going to see what God was going to do to let them get across, no boats, this would be something that would encourage and increase their faith like nothing else. And then when they had to face their Jericho and other places, they could go back and they could remember, and what an encouragement that would be to their heart.
But not only was God going to use this to encourage their faith, God was also going to use this to exalt Joshua as their leader. It’s incredible how God does this. Verse 7, “Now the Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.’” Do you realize that’s true in any leadership area of life? God has to be the One to proclaim you to be the leader. Nobody else can do it and you can’t do it yourself. God has to do it and show Himself strong, which puts you in that position, whether father or whatever leadership position.
Verse 8, “You shall moreover command the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Now keep remembering the river is flooded. No one has mentioned yet how they’re supposed to get across, until verse 12. Now look at verse 12. Talk about crossing that Jordan. “Now then take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe.” Now I’m not going to get into that because that comes up in 4:2-8, so I don’t want to preempt that. But in verse 13, “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.”
He begins to tell them what’s going to happen. No wonder He didn’t say anything about any boats. He wouldn’t have put their feet in that water, that flooded Jordan River. The “soles of the feet of the priests” has to do with exactly what He’s already told Joshua in chapter 1. The word “sole” means the bare part of your foot, remember? In chapter 1 He says every place that the sole of your foot treads upon has been given to you. And what He’s telling them, the priests were to take their shoes off, evidently, and they were to walk considering every step holy unto the Lord. They were consecrated to God, they’d been in His presence, and now they had obedient feet. They were taking every step considered to be holy unto God.
Now God tells them through Joshua how they’re going to get across. And I just love that, how He’s going to do this! When their feet were to touch the water, He said the water is going to rise up in a heap and it’s going to be way back at the city of Adam. Now whether or not it rose up and backed up that far, I don’t know, or whether if right at the city of Adam it just stopped, it couldn’t flow anymore, and it rose up. But the city of Adam was either 17 or 20 miles from where this spot is. I just love the way God does this. He could have done it 400 feet back but He backed that sucker up 17 miles! All the tributaries that were flowing down, even the tributaries were cut off. Verse 13, “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the Ark of the Lord, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off.”
And in verse 14, “So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant before the people, and when those who carried the Ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark were dipped in the edge of the water, for the Jordan overflows all of its banks in the days of harvest,” verse 16, “the waters which were flowing down from above and rose up in one heap at great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those which were flowing down toward the sea, those tributaries of Arahab, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho.”
Oh, the unexplainable wonders of God! What God does when a person get into His presence and consecrates himself to Him. And those flooded rivers of his circumstances loom in front of him. And he says, “God, I don’t have an answer for this, and I know You’re not going to take me around it, but oh, God, You’re going to take me through it. Now how You want to do it is okay, I’m going to put my foot into the water oh God. I want to experience what You can do that no man can explain. I want to step into that which points only to You.” The unexplainable wonders of God.
Do you know, if we can just get a handle on this—when I say we I mean me too—when the rivers of our circumstances flood and we’re staring at something we don’t know how to figure out and there are no answers. We pick up the phone and call everybody that we know and they don’t help us any, but we get in the presence of God and His Word, and in the presence of God, He doesn’t tell us what He’s going to do, He reveals the sin that’s in our life. He reveals the things that are keeping us from being able to understand what He’s doing. And as we consecrate ourselves to Him, then His will becomes very clear to us and it tells us how to step into that water and when we do, we experience the wonders of God and God takes us through life and it works for us, not against us.
Well, a dear friend in my life over the years has been Calvin Moore, the sheriff of Holmes County, Mississippi. And one day Calvin came to me. We had a group of us that would get together and pray, and he said, “Wayne, we need to get together with our group.” And I said, “Why, Calvin?” He said, “I’ve got something tomorrow that could mean the death of a lot of people, me included.”
You know those little towns in the south have those little town squares? And it takes you forever to get around them, especially on Friday when pay day hits. He said, “It’s going to be in Chula, Mississippi. And at that meeting”, he said, “there’s been death threats, there are some very hostile people going to be there. It’s very racially motivated and I don’t know what to do.” He already had about five bullet holes in the side of his car door. Every time he pulled up, there were those bullet holes to remind you of the danger of the job that he had to face every day. He said, “Would you pray? Would you pray that God would somehow just stop this kind of hostility and put this thing down?” We did; we prayed, got in God’s presence, everybody dealing with those things that we had to consecrate ourselves before the Lord.
Well, the next day Calvin went over and it wasn’t a couple or three hours later that he came to get hold of me. I wasn’t able to go. Boy, tears and excitement, I’ve never seen a man so excited in all my life. He was just excited! And I said, “What’s wrong, Calvin, what happened? What happened?” He said, “Oh, Wayne, you won’t believe this.” Unexplainable, folks; when you try to explain it, nobody believes it because unless you were there you can’t believe it. I said, “What do you mean, Calvin?” He said, “We got there and they had all the tables up and, man, the hostility and the weapons that people had.” He said, “Wayne, it was going to be a blood bath if something didn’t stop it.” I said, “What happened?” He said, “Man, you know how we prayed.” He said, “There was a black cloud that just began to form and it got right over that town square and it began to rain where all these hostile people were. It rained so hard and so fierce that it literally washed out the whole thing. They had to leave!”
And I said, “Well, that’s wonderful.” And he said, “No! You don’t understand! It only rained on the courthouse square. I was standing three feet from the curb and the sun was shining on me! But the rain was only on that courthouse square. And God did an unexplainable wonder!”
We live in a time when we don’t seem to understand that anymore. That God can step in any time and in fact, God’s always here. And what He’s waiting on is you and I to get into His presence. Individually. I’m not talking about corporately, I’m taking about individually. I’m talking about every day of our lives, and consecrate ourselves to Him and become the conduit through which He can do the unexplainable wonders that He wants to do.
Step into the water! Step into the water and let God do the unexplainable wonders in our midst. I personally believe we’re right on the edge of it right now. I sense it in our congregation. I’ve sensed it for weeks and weeks and weeks. And when I bow my head to pray, it’s almost like I can hardly stand it, what God is about to do with our people right here. And I’m not talking about just us. It’s not exclusive to just us, it’s everywhere where people are willing to consecrate themselves to Him. Look out! He’s going to do it with us or without us, but I’d rather it be with us. Wouldn’t you? And the way we get in touch with what He’s already doing is when we consecrate ourselves. The unchangeable will of God is never going to change, and the unexplainable wonders of God, but final thing I want you to see is the unsearchable wisdom of God.
- The unsearchable wisdom of God
He does something here that is so wise that it just drives me to the point that I can hardly grasp it. It’s just like His wisdom is so awesome. Verse 17, “And the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord” walked over to the other side and said come on guys, it’s okay? No! They didn’t do that: “stood firm on dry ground,” now where did they stand firm? “in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.”
Do you understand what’s going on here? Two and a half million people, they walk up. And imagine the confidence that it gave to them when they put their feet down on that dry riverbed. And they, first of all, saw that dry riverbed. They thought “How can this be? The river flowed over this just a little while ago.” But then they looked up and said, “Oh me! Should I take the next step, because if that river backed up it can be turned loose! Maybe He’s going to let us get out into the middle like the Pharaoh and the Egyptians did in the Red Sea. Maybe He’s going to kill us.” And they looked up and what did they see? They saw the priests standing in the middle of the river holding the Ark of the Covenant! What encouragement that gave to the rest coming across. “Go on, Brother, God’s with us and He’s given us a way through the swollen river of our circumstance.”
God’s wisdom, to me, to do this is awesome. Both the old, the young, as they stepped into that river bed, saw the priests and they said, “Oh, Son, God’s backed it up and He’s going to hold it back until every one of us gets across. He’s not going to do a thing until the priests leave the river. Thank you, Lord.” And they walked on.
Do you know what this is a picture of to me? It’s a picture of how those that have walked with God and have proven Him in their lives, stand in the midst of the swollen circumstances of life as encouragement to those who come behind. And when they look up and see us standing, when they look up and see us holding on to the Word of God, when they look up and see us not leaning to the left and not leaning to the right, what does that say to the generation that’s coming behind us? They know who they are and whose they are and it gives them encouragement to come right along.
You say, “Wayne, that’s just your conjecture.” Well, is it? The apostle Paul seemed to have something to say to the mature so that they might strengthen the weak among them. In his letter to the Thessalonians, he says that he’s going to send Timothy to strengthen those who were in Thessalonica. He has a man that he can trust who will stand in the midst of them and be strong so that they can begin to grow in their faith. It says in 1 Thessalonians 3:1, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer,” he’s talking about the persecution he and Silas had gone through, “we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone. And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith.”
And in Hebrews 12:12, “Therefore strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble and make straight paths for your feet so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” You see, we’re all priests in Christ and if we walk focused on Him, standing in the midst of the swollen rivers of our circumstances, trusting God and holding on to His presence, that sends a message to the people that are around us and behind us so that they might be strengthened in their walk.
And so I believe God is telling us all today, “Step into the water, step into the water. Don’t fear it, don’t look for another way. Trust Me and walk through it—whatever it is that is in front of you—and I will do wonders in your midst that will so encourage you that when the test comes, then you’ll have the faith to be able to endure and to face it.”
The unchangeable will of God, the unexplainable wonders of God, and the unsearchable riches and wisdom of God. In the closing illustration, I had a friend when I grew up named Susie Hall. She’s with Jesus today. She would come in the house and we always knew Susie was there because the cookie jar would be banging. She never knocked on the door, she just walked in; this was like part of our family. She was like my sister growing up. Her brother Barry and I are dear friends to this day. Susie was full of life. She was captain of the cheerleaders on her high school teams and she was just a wonderful person.
One day I was at the house and somebody called me, and a friend of mine worked for an ambulance service, and he said, “I heard a call that came in and said they were taking somebody by the name of Susie Hall to the hospital emergency. She was about to die.” I thought, “Not the Susie that I know.” Immediately I got hold of the Hall family and they said, “Yes, Susie is on her way there.” A long story short, Susie had been swimming at a lake and just came out of the water, looked up, in excruciating pain, fell over dead, and that was it. The doctors said it was something that happened to the blood veins or something in her back had never completely matured and back in those days they said she couldn’t have lived any longer. They said she was destined to live till then. Of course, I believe that about everybody. I believe there is an appointed time to be born and an appointed time die. Nobody changes that.
But she died! I remember going over to her house, and Barry Hall, a big old football player, ran over and grabbed me and just sobbed and sobbed. I stayed with him that night. And here I was, a young man trying to figure out death to start with, much less how does a Christian face death? How do they handle it? I remember right in the middle of the night I heard a commotion. I stayed in Barry’s room, he had bunk beds, and the bed moved and I heard him get up and I heard voices out in the little den area and in the basement off of where his bedroom was. And I got over to the door and I just kind of peeked it open and there was Ellis Hall. Ellis Hall was the daddy, and Ellis Hall had his family down there and he would weep, and that’s what God allows us to do when tragedy strikes us, but right in the midst of it he would cry out to God, “Oh, God, thank you that you’re going to take us through this. Thank you, Father, that you’re going to take us through this.”
I remember being a 15 or 16 year old teenage boy trying to grasp what was going on there! But I read it in Joshua and now I understand it. He was standing on what he knew to stand on. He was in the middle of the crisis of his life, weeping, and there is nothing wrong with that. He was venting the hurt and the emotion, but in the midst of it, he hung onto the presence of God that was with him, and as he prayed he said, “Oh God, don’t let anything in our lives keep your testimony from being heard to other people as we go through these days that are ahead of us.”
Isn’t that the same thing? In the midst of your crisis, you get into the presence of God. When you get in His presence, you realize immediately that He’s in control; everything is all right in Him. And you consecrate yourselves. And as you stand in the middle of the crisis of your life, stand trusting Him, holding onto the Ark, the presence of Christ in your life. When you do that, when you do that, the people who come from behind are encouraged. And that’s what we’re seeing here. The unchangeable will of God, the unexplainable wonders of God and the unsearchable wisdom of God.
I want to thank many of you for standing strong in the crisis of your life which encourages me when I have to face them that I can walk through the same way. That’s what it’s all about.